Posted by: alexishelmer6248 | March 27, 2019

“The Elephant v. The Mouse”

Over the course of the semester, we have spent time discussing some of the differences in how women lead (hence why we are in a women’s leadership class). We have focused on styles, decisions, characteristics, personality traits, obligations, and commitments – all of which go back to the idea of what it means to be a woman leader. In this article written by Joan Michelson (see attached at the bottom), she proposes the question of “are the differences in women leaders due to gender or being in the minority?”

As she explains the concept of the elephant and the mouse, she focuses on many different aspects, explaining that the mouse, or the non-dominant group, focuses more on understanding the elephant because it has to in order to survive while the elephant, or the dominant group, really does not pay attention to the mouse because its impact is not as present. This is important, as most organizations position women as the mouse. As stated in the article, “the non-dominant group always has to know more about the dominant group, and adapt to the dominant group, and has to adapt to the systems the dominant group developed. Therefore, when women do assume leadership roles, they are still working within the system that was largely designed by and for men.”

Michelson then goes on to explain different ways in which this is seen in the workplace environment:
1. Women’s networks are different in style and function.
2. Women find creative solutions.
3. Women focus more on stakeholders; men focus more on shareholders, investors.
4. Women tend to be better prepared.
5. Women’s communication styles are perceived differently and they are often promoted differently.

Overall, I enjoyed this article because it helped me to shift my perspective of women struggling in the workplace and leadership roles because of gender to it being more about them just being the minority. This also helped me think about other groups of individuals who are the minority and how this metaphor and these examples tie in with those groups.

Do you think there are any examples that stand out more than others or were forgotten about? Using the discussions and readings from this semester, do you agree with the analogy that is presented in the article or do you think Michelson is missing the mark?

Link to article:


  1. I really enjoyed this article and the analogy it provided. I do think that the minority is always having to learn about the dominant group and always having to work hard. However, I think it depends on who the dominant group is, because I feel like if the boss was male, the minority group is female even if there are other males below the boss. I think a comparison to this analogy is a sports team. The players need to learn about the coach and what she/he wants and always working hard, but the dominant group (the coaches) don’t have to learn about the players. Doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t, but it isn’t necessary.

  2. I like your post as you ask some interesting questions based on the article presenting a whole new side to consider when looking at women leaders. I think it’s important to recognize it’s not always about men vs. women rather dominant vs. non-dominant groups like the article mentioned. The article really changes the way one can look at a situation and not make it about gender. I agree that as a non-dominant group, you are always looking up at what is superior to you, which is mostly the dominant group. I think this idea can be applied in many different areas such as race, class, ethnicity, etc. When you think about the non-dominant races, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and so on, you think about how they have always been seen as inferior to the white race and have had to adapt to systems created by Whites. The same can be said for social class and ethnicity, so yes, I agree with the analogy presented in the article. I think because men are the dominant group and women are the minority, women face more struggles trying to find their way in system created and run by males. However, there is one idea that I am left thinking about and that is what makes women the minority? Could it be that women are in the non-dominant group because of their gender, therefore the issue incorporates being gender and minority because if you’re a woman then you’re a minority or vice versa. Just a thought and something to think about! 🙂

  3. I think this is a really good analogy. But I think it is also important to point out that a mouse is the one thing that an elephant fears. I think this can also be applied to the analogy. The dominant group, elephant, fears the non-dominant group, the mouse, and this fear could be for a multitude of reasons. One reason I can think of is that the dominant group fears the potential power the non-dominant group can have if they no longer are a minority. Strength is power in numbers, so the dominant group might fear the non-dominant group because they do not want them to be on par with them and thus, may be trying to keep them in the minority. This is something that I think is essential to consider. Not only do minorities try to assimilate themselves into the majority’s environment, and thus when they become a leader are working in that same environment, but there is also an underlying reason as to why a group may be a minority in the first place and that should also be examined so we look at the root of the cause, not just the symptoms.

  4. I really like this metaphor, and it’s an interesting perspective on a lot of the topics we’ve discussed so far this semester. I’m drawn to think about what the solution could be when we look at the issues in this way. While I’m sure there is no clear-cut answer, I’m wondering whether more of the issues lie with women or with the system. Based on what we’ve studied so far this semester, I’m beginning to lean toward the idea that we need to fix the system. While women may be distracted by being the non-dominant group to an extent, I think that institutional changes should be a priority. Like the author mentioned at the end of the article, there needs to be more thought put into policies and procedures that help keep women out of leadership positions. While it may be impossible to get rid of all of our implicit gender biases, organizations can still make change to help keep our biases at bay.

  5. I really enjoyed reading your post with this article because even though we have discussed the idea of women being in the minority and about the treatment of minority groups, I don’t think we have addressed this specific question posed in the article (whether women lead differently due to gender differences or due to the fact that they are the minority). I think I would tend to lean towards the answer that it is probably some of both reasons- I’m sure there are specific strategies and ways that women lead that are due to the fact that they are in the minority, but I don’t think all the differences are due to this. I think that would make sense as to why in female-dominated fields we still see a difference in male and female leadership. But, I still think that being in the minority definitely affects women’s leadership styles. I just think it must be some combination of both aspects.

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